Colour Is Everywhere
Japanese artist Yoshi Sislay, famous for his marker pen wall drawings, tells Companion about his journey into art and his latest collaboration with 25hours Hotels.
Yoshi, how did you become an artist?
By my early twenties I had visited more than 30 countries since leaving my hometown of Osaka. It was 2001 and I was hanging around London drinking and dancing and working in a bar called Fluid in Farringdon. It was a Japanese-themed urban retreat just next to the famous Fabric night club. I was happy working four days a week til 3am in the morning, but inside I felt empty. I was looking for something, but wasn’t sure what.
Fluid attracted lots of successful people like lawyers and fashion designers. They talked about their jobs with lots of passion. I was envious and wanted to make something happen. I had many DJ friends in venues where I could get in free, and I felt I should use this opportunity to organise an event. I asked James the owner of Fluid to give me a space to have a party and offered to organise everything – talking to Time Out, booking the DJ, and creating some posters. It was open for anybody to come.
I drew an invitation like a little poster with a black marker pen and put them in the empty liquor bottles. On the way back to my flat in Hackney, I threw the bottles along the canals. I felt that if someone found the invitation, like a treasure map, they would be a really good customer with the same feelings as I had of looking for something, and it would be a good party.
The party was a big success with so many interesting people, many of whom asked who did the drawings on the posters. It was very encouraging and gave me the confidence to pursue art. When I was a kid I used to read lots of comics and was always drawing on the desks at breaktime. I also like graffti artists like Mark Gonzales who created zines and Banksy who was famous around London at that time. I never went to art school, but learnt from so many amazing street artists.
I went to New Zealand for a year to draw landscapes. I lived in the forest with the Maori, but felt like I wanted to go somewhere non-English speaking. I like baseball, football and basketball and in London my favourite football player was Brazilian Ranaldinho who played for Barcelona. I followed my instincts and bought a flight there.
The decision was correct. Here I discovered the work of so many inspiring artists like Gaudi and Picasso. I knew their names but I didn’t know who they were as I had no academic education. Art is such a never-ending story, I felt confident that I wouldn’t become bored of being an artist and began to learn from the past. Now I started to push myself. I used to work in a restaurant and say I was a sushi chef, or a bartender. I never said I was an artist. When I came to Barcelona, I started to say I was an artist. I showed my work. It was the beginning.
How would you describe your art?
I create black pen drawings on a white background. Colour is everywhere so I create without it. There’s nothing black and white in life. I draw in black and white because colour has so many connotations. If you use blue, it looks like a sky. If you have a cloud with red, it looks like a sunrise or sunset. Colour conveys so much information so when I remove colour, people have more ways of interpreting my art.
I don’t want to force my opinion on people too much. If I draw a fish, and someone says it’s a giraffe, ok so that’s a giraffe! If someone sees it with a different angle, they could add a better story than mine.
How has 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin inspired you?
25hours Hotels founder, Christoph Hoffman, wanted to depict the theme of urban jungle inside the hotel which overlooks Berlin Zoo to the rear. I drew lots of creatures inspired by nature with circling shapes, whilst on the other side I drew industrial shapes. They sometimes mirror one another such as a big moonfish and a submarine – similar shapes, but different. Many business people return to the hotel, so I created different drawings in every single room so it’s never boring. They could be tiny like a snake coming out of the bottom of the wall, or I could do a huge landscape. I try to refresh people’s brains.
We recently teamed up with Canvasco bags, using a drawing from the 25hours Berlin on the bag. When people buy it, they can try to find where I drew it in the hotel. It’s very playful.
What inspires your art?
My work is probably most like a comic. It’s original and usually improvised. I don’t create a sketch before I start drawing because the sketch is the art. I love to try to convey how a tree isn’t trying to be beautiful, it’s just trying to do the best it can to survive. I want people to see that in my drawing. I don’t copy and paste, I draw every leaf. I try not to measure. I just use my hands.
I also take inspiration from the imagination like legends of dragons or from ancient worlds where dinosaurs roamed. Sometimes I draw buildings, but I try to show the happiness in them. I’m interested in personalities and how to put emotion into my art. People who look at my art can create the story for themselves.